In what one Kelowna city councillor described as a “love-in,” a grandiose plan to build a 24-storey hotel on the city’s downtown lakeshore has been given an initial nod of approval.
The plan, years in the making, received praise from all members of city council on hand for first reading of a rezoning application Monday. The rezoning would allow part of the project to be built on a road adjacent to the site, one that city would close and sell to the developer. The rezoning application will go to public hearing June 10.
“If the mayor were here, he’d call this a love in,” said Coun. Colin Basran. “He’s not here so I’ll say it for him.”
Gray and Coun. Andre Blanleil were both absent from Monday’s council meeting and Coun. Maxine DeHart excused herself as she has a conflict of interest because she works for another major hotel in the city.
Edmonton-based Westcorp wants to built the single-tower hotel, which would be perched on top of a five-story “pedestal” base at Mill Street and Queensway, site of the former Willow Inn. The site is separated from the lakeshore by Mill Street and Kerry Park.
As part of the development plan, the company wants the city to close the section of Mill Street that runs along the edge of Kerry Park and sell it to Westcorp so part of its development could be built on what is now a public road.
A walkway separating the development from Kerry Park would be built but no part of the park would be used for development or would be rezoned.
The application and public hearing to close Mill Street has yet to go to city council but Phil Milroy, head of Westcorp has said closure of the street and purchase by his company is critical to the multi-million development.
Following a description of the 214-room, elliptical shaped tower hotel, councillors praised the proposal as just what the city needs.
While it is five storeys taller than the city’s downtown development guidelines allow, a height variance is expected to be granted.
“The height is not an unreasonable proposal,” said Coun. Robert Hobson, who predicted the building would be a iconic site in the city. His feelings about the proposed height were echoed by Coun. Gerry Zimmerman.
Their council colleague Coun. Mohini Singh described the building as “elegant,” and one that would add a vibrancy to downtown.
Coun. Gail Given praised Westcorp for going “above and beyond,” predicting the development would be a “jewel in City of Kelowna’s crown.” And Coun. Luke Stack, sitting in for the absent mayor said he felt the hotel, with its accompanying conference facilities, restaurants, bar and other amenities in the five-storey heavily glassed pedestal base would be “the kind of place you would want to be.”
The base, which tiers down as it gets closer to the water and to the nearby heritage building that currently houses Kelly O’Brian’s restaurant at the corner of Mill Street and Bernard Avenue, will front directly onto the Kerry Park.
Westcorp plans to build and operate the hotel and says it will wil not only compliment the larger conference facilities already in place at the nearby Delta Grand Okanagan Hotel, it will also allow the city to host larger conventions because there will be more “quality” hotel rooms in the immediate downtown area of the city.
In addition to the hotel proposal, Westcorp has already built, and currently operates the the $5.1 million public pier and commercial marina downtown. The pier is located directly in front of Kerry Park and features similar wood work to accents that are to adorn the hotel.